Casa de Libertad

Along the main plaza in town are the oldest buildings in Sucre. One of the more striking is the Casa de Libertad.

The house of liberty was built by the Jesuits in 1592-1621 as a university for the Spanish and Charcas living in Sucre. It was one of the oldest universities in South America, and because of the center of learning that was cultivated by the Jesuits, it became the center of political philosophy and debate for the country two hundred years later. As a side note, although I am not well-read in the history/politics of colonial Latin America, I do believe the Jesuits were one of the better religious groups that went over during colonization. They were one of the only groups to live among the natives and learn the indigenous languages. To the Jesuits, Christianity was Christianity, not Spanish culture.


While the Spanish made a lot of wealth off the backs of indigenous people working in the silver mines, their hold on Bolivia was never as strong as other South American countries. Throughout their time presiding over the Andes, there were many revolts. In early years, the region of Bolivia was closely tied with Peru, and during the first full-fledged rebellion by criollos and mestizos in 1809, Bolivia and Peru worked together, calling the region Upper Peru. The next sevenish years are full of complicated manueverings between royal groups, rebel groups, and others through what is modern Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.

In 1825 all political delegates met in Casa del Libertad to decide whether to join Upper Peru to Peru, to join with Argentina, or to be an independent country. Apparently General Simon Bolivar, who orchestrated most of the military efforts in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, was not convinced this country could govern itself. So after voting to be independent, they named the country after him, to placate him: Bolivia.

One of the more striking characters we were introduced to during the tour was Juana Azurduy de Padilla. Born in 1780 to an indigenous mother and Spanish father, she was mestizo. When she was orphaned at 12 she went to live at a convent with the plan of becoming a nun. She was expelled when she was 17 because she rebelled too much.

She and her criollo husband, Manuel Padilla, had four sons together, but when the revolution broke out in 1809 he joined the fighting. The Spanish military began hunting him down, and Juana brought their two sons and two daughters along to the guerilla group. She fought as well. A year or two into fighting, they decided it would be safer if they split up. Juana had to run, hiding in the wilderness with their children from the Spanish. Her sons died, either as a result of wounds from Spanish soldiers or from sickness. Her daughters eventually died of dehydration before they could reach a military camp.

After that, her husband became ruthless in his battles with the Spanish, and she reunited with him. She became pregnant, and gave birth to a daughter on the edge of the battlefield. When she thought she had recovered from childbirth, she grabbed a saber and went back to fight. In a battle in 1816 she was wounded, and her husband was killed while going to rescue her. The Spanish took his body, beheaded him, and displayed the pieces in a nearby city. It took six months for Juana to recover his body. Now widowed, Juana took up more leadership, at one point commanding 6,000 men. She eventually fought in Argentina under an Argentinian general. When the wars in 1825, she returned to Sucre, Bolivia with her daughter. No one remember her, her husband, or what they had done. She died in 1862, poor and alone.


But now Juana and Manuel are considered folk heroes and patriots. Their ashes are held in a box in the Casa de Libertad, probably not far from where she was born over 200 years ago, with a Bolivian and Argentine flag draped over them.


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